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Tool Report: NetBeans Profiler
Get rid of your performance problems and memory leaks!
Get rid of your performance problems and memory leaks!
Published January 2007 (Initially Published November 2005)
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The NetBeansTM Profiler is an
optional feature of the NetBeans Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The
NetBeans Profiler is a powerful tool that provides important information
about the runtime behavior of an application. Imposing relatively little
overhead, the NetBeans Profiler tracks thread state, CPU performance, and
memory usage. It uses innovative technology to
allow you to tightly control exactly which parts of an application are
profiled, resulting in reduced overhead and easier to interpret results.
The profiled application can run locally or
on a remote system. And by being tightly integrated into the IDE workflow the
NetBeans Profiler makes it easy to identify performance problems and
Supported Java VMs
The NetBeans Profiler can profile applications running on the following JVMs:
Installing the NetBeans Profiler
- Download the profiler pack installer for your platform from the
NetBeans Profiler homepage.
- If you have a previous version of the NetBeans Profiler installed,
uninstall it first - see the instructions on the
- Launch the downloaded installer.
- Proceed through the steps of the installer wizard to install the module.
- (Re)Start the NetBeans IDE.
Once installed, the module adds the Profile menu item to the menu bar.
The Profile menu allows you to start
profiling and work with the results. The module also adds two toolbar buttons
that are shortcuts to the Profile command ( )
and the Attach and Profile command ( ).
The NetBeans IDE is the base product on which
Sun Java Studio Enterprise
(JSE) is built. JSE also offers profiling features.
The NetBeans Profiler provides a number of internal settings that let you tune profiling to
your needs. For example, you may decrease the profiling overhead at the cost
of some reduction in the amount of generated information. However, it may take
some time to understand the meaning and use of the numerous settings available
in the NetBeans Profiler.
For most applications, certain default settings are sufficient.
For this reason, the NetBeans Profiler offers two major profiling options.
You can start profiling by choosing a simple predefined profiling task,
which has most of the settings preset to optimal values and therefore requires
little or no tuning. Alternatively, you can create your own custom profiling
configuration, where you are free to modify any of the available settings.
To start profiling an application:
- Open your project in the NetBeans IDE.
- Right-click your project's entry in the Projects window and then
select Set Main Project.
- Choose Profile > Profile Main Project
from the main menu.
- Choose a profiling command from the list in the Select Profiling Task dialog box.
- Click Run.
When you click Run, the target application launches and the selected profiling command starts.
The NetBeans Profiler control panel opens in the IDE.
To see the results of the profiling command, click the Live Results button
( ) in the Profiler control panel
to open the Profiling Results tab.
To stop the profiling command, choose Profile > Stop from the Profile menu or click the
Stop button ( ). If you start the application with the
NetBeans Profiler, when
you stop the profiling command the application also stops.
The Select Profiling Task dialog box is the main interface for selecting and running profiles.
The dialog box gives you five different ways of profiling the target application. The first four
are predefined profiling commands. The last command,
Run Custom Profiling, allows you to create your own custom profiling configuration.
When you click on a profiling command the box expands, displaying a
brief explanation of the command
and, for some tasks, allowing you to set some profiling options.
Clicking Run at the bottom of the
dialog box launches the target application and starts the selected
Only one task, i.e. one kind of profiling, can be active for
the profiled application at any given time (monitoring is
always active however, even when another task is chosen, since its overhead
is very low). Note that while profiling you can switch between profiling
tasks without stopping and restarting your application.
You can choose from the following profiling tasks:
- Monitor Application
This profile command displays
high-level information about several important properties of the target JVM, including thread
activity and memory usage.
- Analyze Performance
Application Performance profiles method-level CPU performance (execution time).
You can choose to profile the entire application or a part of the application.
Detailed filters can be set to control exactly which methods get profiled, allowing
the rest of your application to run at full speed.
- Entire Application.
In this mode, the NetBeans Profiler instruments all
of the methods of the profiled application. Threads emit
the "method entry" event when entering a method and generate
the corresponding "method exit" event when exiting the method.
Both of these events contain timestamps. This data is processed in real time.
- Part of Application.
In this mode, you can instrument and profile a limited
subset of the application's
code. When partial application profiling is used, profiling data
is not collected until one of the application's threads
enters a user-selected root method.
Profiling a limited subset of the application's code may greatly reduce the
profiling overhead. Furthermore, for some programs this option may be the only way to
obtain any detailed and/or realistic performance data at all as the amount of generated
data when the entire application is profiled can be so high
as to render the application unusable or even
cause it to crash (for example, due to unexpected timeouts).
- Application Startup
Use this mode when you want to analyze application startup time.
- Analyze Code Fragment Performance
This command measures the time it takes to execute an
arbitrary piece of code within one method, or the whole method. By analyzing a code fragment
rather than the entire application, the profiling overhead is greatly reduced. The absolute results that
you obtain in this mode are closest to the real runtime performance, since the
instrumentation is the most lightweight.
- Analyze Memory Usage
When you analyze memory usage, the profiling results displayed depend on which of the
following options you choose:
- Record both object creation and garbage collection (Object Liveness)
This option provides information about how many objects
of each type are still alive, as well as data on live objects.
- Record object creation (Object Allocation)
This option gives you information about the
number, type, and location of objects that have been allocated.
This profiling mode is a functional subset of object liveness profiling.
The reason for having both modes is that pure object allocation profiling
has a smaller performance and memory overhead.
By default only ten percent of all objects
for each class are tracked by the NetBeans Profiler. This statistical
approach has been shown to deliver results that are as accurate as
when all objects are tracked, but with the benefit of greatly reduced
- Run Custom Profiling
is for running custom profiling configurations.
You can create, edit, and save these custom configurations, allowing
you to control all the internal profile settings.
The profiling control panel is displayed in the left pane of the IDE when you run
the NetBeans Profiler.
You can open the control panel by choosing Window >
Profiling > Profiler Control Panel. It contains
controls that do the following:
- Control the profiling task
- Display the status of the current profiling task
- Display profiling results
- Manage profiling results snapshots
- Display basic telemetry statistics
The NetBeans Profiler provides several displays of information.
The VM Telemetry Overview is always displayed when the Monitor
Application command is chosen. To display it at any other time, select Profile >
View > Telemetry Overview.
In the graph on the left the red shading indicates the allocated
size of the JVM heap. The purple
overlay indicates the amount of heap space actually in use. In the example above the
allocated heap size at the last update was over 300 megabytes. Of that
about 20 megabytes is actually being used to hold Java objects.
The graph on the right shows the count of active
threads in the JVM.
The graph in the center shows two important heap
- The blue line is the percentage of execution time spent by
the JVM doing garbage collection and is graphed against the y-axis on the right
edge of the graph. Time spent by the JVM doing garbage collection is time that is
not available for it to run your application. So if the blue line indicates a large
percentage you may want to consider tuning the JVM by configuring a larger heap
size (refer to the -Xmx parameter
or perhaps switching to a different garbage collection
The red line is surviving generations and is graphed against the y-axis scale
on the left edge of the graph. The count of surviving generations is the number of different
ages of all the Java objects on the JVM's heap, where "age" is defined as the number of
garbage collections that an object has survived. When the value for surviving generations is low it
indicates that most of the objects on the heap have been around about the same amount of time.
If, however, the value for surviving generations is increasing at a high rate over time then it
indicates your application is allocating new objects while maintaining references to many
of the older objects it already allocated. If those older objects are in fact no longer
needed then your application is wasting (or "leaking") memory.
Thread state is optionally displayed when the Monitor
Application command is chosen. It contains the following tabs:
- Threads (Timeline)
Shows current and historical thread state, updated as the
- Threads (Details)
Shows a summary of thread state information for a single thread.
A sample timeline graph is shown below.
Color coding is used to display thread state:
- Green: the thread is either
running or is ready to run.
- Purple: the thread is sleeping; for example
it called Thread.sleep().
- Yellow: the thread is waiting in a call
- Red: the thread is blocked while trying to enter
a synchronized block or method.
Clicking the Live Results button
( ) in the control panel
will open the Profiling Results tab. Depending on the profiling command
that is running, this tab will display either
performance or object allocation and liveness statistics.
The NetBeans Profiler will update the displayed profiling results automatically
at short intervals (about 2 seconds) if the Update Results Automatically
button ( )
in the toolbar is clicked.
The CPU Snapshot captures data on method call chains, times, and invocations
when profiling CPU performance, either from
the Analyze Performance predefined task or when running a custom CPU profile.
The CPU Snapshot is displayed when you click the Take Snapshot
button ( ) in the control panel.
The CPU snapshot contains the following tabs:
- Call Tree
The Call Tree tab displays the Calling Context Tree (CCT)
showing the method call chain and the time/number
of invocations for executing threads and methods in each context. (A context is a unique
chain of method calls leading to the method's invocation.)
- Hot Spots
The Hot Spots tab shows the total execution time and number of
invocations for each method, irrespective of the context.
The Combined tab displays the CCT information in the upper
half of the window and the Hot Spot data in the lower half.
The Info tab displays data on when the snapshot was taken, where it is saved, and the
profile settings used.
The Memory Snapshot captures data on object allocation and liveness
when profiling memory usage with
the Analyze Memory Usage command or
when doing memory profiling in a custom profile.
The Memory Snapshot is displayed when you click you click the Take Snapshot
button ( ) in the control panel.
The Memory snapshot contains the following tabs:
- Memory Results
This tab displays a list of classes
(including array classes), with statistics on the total size and number of instances
allocated as of the time you took the snapshot.
The specific information provided includes:
- Allocated Objects is the number of objects that the
NetBeans Profiler is actually monitoring.
this number will be approximately ten percent of the value
of total allocated objects. By monitoring
only a subset of the created objects the NetBeans Profiler is able to dramatically reduce the overhead
it places on the JVM, which then allows your application to run at close to full speed.
- Live Objects is the number of the Allocated Objects that are still on the JVM's heap and
are therefore taking up memory.
- The two Live Bytes columns show the amount of heap memory being used by the Live Objects.
One column displays a graph, the other displays text.
- The Avg. Age value is calculated using the Live Objects. The age of each object is the number
of garbage collections that it has survived. The sum of the ages divided by the number
of Live Objects is the Avg. Age.
- The Generations value is calculated using the Live Objects. As with Avg. Age, the
age of an object is the number of garbage collections it has survived. The Generations value
is the number of different ages for the Live Objects. An increasing
value for Generations indicates a possible memory leak.
In this tab, you can
right-click any class and select Show Allocation Stack Traces. The stack traces
for the selected class are displayed in the Allocation Stack Traces tab.
- Allocation Stack Traces
This tab displays a reverse call graph with all call paths leading to object allocations for the given
The Info tab displays data on when the snapshot was taken, where it is saved, and the
profile settings used.
This example demonstrates just one feature of the NetBeans Profiler:
the ability to quickly identify CPU performance problems. The example
is a web application that just calculates prime numbers.
When attempting to find performance bottlenecks, you typically know
which features are running slowly. That allows you to narrow down the
search for the bottleneck to a top level method for that feature. The
NetBeans Profiler supports this by allowing you specify a root method
- A profiling session begins by selecting a project as the IDE's
Main Project. Then Profile > Profile Main Project is chosen from the IDE menu.
- The Select Profiling Task dialog is displayed.
- The Analyze Performance button is clicked.
- The Part of Application radio button is clicked. Then the
Select button is used to select the class that contains the
root method. In this case the class is demo.Performance
and the method is processRequest.
This means that the demo.Performance.processRequest method and all methods that it calls,
and all methods that they in turn call (and so on) will be profiled. Starting
from demo.Performance.processRequest, the
Profiler does analysis of the method call graph to determine which methods need profiling.
Only those methods are profiled - the rest of the application will continue to run at full
speed with no profiling overhead.
- Particularly when profiling web or enterprise applications, there
are usually large blocks of code that you do not want to profile. In
this example, the web server is Tomcat and there is no need to do profiling
of Tomcat's code.
So in the Analyze Performance window, the Quick Filter
is used to specify methods that should not be profiled.
The string org.apache is specified
so that all methods in the org.apache package (and child packages) will not be profiled -
even if they are called from the root method that was selected. This reduces
profiling overhead and filters out information that is not relevant.
- Clicking the Run button in the Select Profiling Task window
starts the profiling session. The IDE will start Tomcat
and display the web application's index.jsp page in a web browser window.
At the same time, the Profiler will run in the background.
portion of the web application that causes the root method to run
is then invoked by interacting with the application's user interface.
- After the application responds, the
Profile > Take Snapshot of Collected Results
command is selected in the IDE.
The Profiler displays the performance results, as illustrated below.
The top window shows the complete method call graph beginning with the root method.
The bottom window is a flatter depiction; it shows the Hot Spots in the application -
those methods that took the most time to execute.
- To examine and interpret the results, notice that the
processRequest method ran for a total of 4308 milliseconds (ms).
Note, however, that very
little time was spent running the instructions of the processRequest method itself -
the "self time" for processRequest is only 10.1 ms.
The vast majority of the time was spent in methods called by processRequest. The Hot Spots
displayed in the bottom window are sorted by "self time." By looking at that list you can
the calculate method took up 97.8% of the execution time. This is not surprising
given the amount of work the calculate method has been given to do and
the inefficient way it goes about doing that work.
- To help you decide how your application can be optimized,
the NetBeans Profiler helps you identify bottlenecks in your code
that were not expected or that will prevent your application from scaling well.
From here, it is possible to
right-click the calculate entry and choose
Go To Source in order to examine the source code.
As a comparision to calculate's runtime, the Profiler output
of an optimized algorithm in a method called calculate2, is shown below.
Notice that the processRequest method ran for only 107ms and
the calculate2 method took up less than 10% of the execution time!
The 5.5 release of the NetBeans Profiler did not add much to the set of
profiling features described in this tool report. It did add support for easily starting
profiling sessions on enterprise applications and Enterprise Java Bean (EJB)
code. It also added support for several environments
that were not supported before. These include support for: 64-bit JVMs, application
servers such as GlassFish and JBoss, and support for the Apple Mac OS X
operating system. For full details, refer to
What's New In NetBeans Profiler 5.5.
Looking ahead to NetBeans Profiler 6.0, the Profiler development team is planning
to add several new features that help make the NetBeans Profiler even easier to use and more
comprehensive. These features
- Dynamic Attach. This feature allows you to start your application's JVM without any special flags or options. The Profiler can then be attached to the running JVM at any time in order to begin profiling. The Profiler can be detached at any time and all profiling will stop and your application's JVM continues to run. This feature is especially useful for environments where your application cannot be restarted in order to profile it. To use this feature, your application's JVM must be JDK 6 or higher and you must run the NetBeans IDE with JDK 6 or higher.
- Areas of Interest. As an alternative to profiling an entire application in order to find out where the most CPU time is being used, you can instead have the Profiler display an "areas of interest" graph, as shown in the pie chart graph below.
The sizes of the pie chart sections are determined using categorizations that are based on package names. You can click a pie chart section in order to "drill down" and see a more detailed view based on sub-categories. This high-level view of CPU usage makes it easier to quickly see which parts of your application are causing performance problems. There is a Flash demo of an early version of this feature available here.
Profiling Points. In order to provide you with finer-grained
control during a profiling session, the NetBeans Profiler has added
profiling points. These are similar to the breakpoints that are
used in debuggers. Profiling points can be added to a specific line
number within your source code and are used to control things such as the recording
of result snapshots. You could, for example, specify a profiling point
near the top of a method that clears the profiler's accumulated results:
And then add another profiling point further down in the method
that takes a snapshot of the results.
This example would be used during memory profiling to show the
objects allocated between lines 42 and 66 of the construct() method.
A Flash demo of an early version of this functionality is
Enhanced Root Method Selection. In version 6.0 selecting
root methods for CPU performance analysis will be even easier. The Profiler will
provide a high-level view of the types of code in the application.
You will be able to select any or all of the listed entries, as
shown in the example below, which is for a web application.
HeapWalker. The NetBeans Profiler has always included a very
powerful feature for finding memory leaks. It uses instrumentation
to show you memory allocation trends and to help you spot objects
that are likely memory leaks. Instrumentation is not the best
approach for finding some types of memory leaks, however, and in version 6.0 the
NetBeans Profiler will add the HeapWalker, a new tool for
examining the contents of the JVM's heap. It will be able to process
heap snapshots of any size and can be used both during a profiling
session and with a heap snapshot that was saved to disk.
JMeter Integration. The JMeter
project provides an easy way
for you to do load testing of your application. JMeter will be included
with version 6.0 of the NetBeans IDE and when used in conjunction
with the NetBeans Profiler, will allow you to easily see the impact
of load on the components of your application.
All of the features listed above are still under development. Milestone builds
of version 6.0 of the NetBeans IDE and the NetBeans Profiler are being made
available on a regular basis - more information on milestones is available
So please try out these new features - the NetBeans Profiler development
team is interested in hearing your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NetBeans Profiler is a powerful tool that provides important information
about the runtime behavior of an application. It can be used to identify
thread state problems, CPU performance bottlenecks, and memory usage
bugs. For more information, please visit the
NetBeans Profiler homepage.
Last Updated: 2020-12-28
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